A Week In Chicago, IL, On $20 An Hour

Welcome to Money Diaries, where we're tackling what might be the last taboo facing modern working women: money. We're asking millennials how they spend their hard-earned money during a seven-day period — and we're tracking every last dollar.
Today: a bridal designer who makes $20 an hour and spends some of her money this week on throw pillows.
Occupation: Bridal Designer
Industry: Fashion/Wedding
Age: 25
Location: Chicago
Salary: $20/hr
Paycheck Amount (2x/month): ~$530 from one job, plus $200-$600/month from my contract position
Gender Identity: Woman
Monthly Expenses
Rent: $1,250
Loans: $101 (Personal loan I took out a few years ago to build my credit. I have a few months left on it.)
Netflix: $0 (My parents pay for the family.)
Spotify: $9
Squarespace: $26
Intuit Quickbooks: $10
Electricity: $10
Internet: $70
ClassPass: $19 (Paid via my Australian bank account.)
Studio Fees: $400
Savings: $25
Cell Phone: $0 (My dad pays for the family.)

Day One

6:45 a.m. — I pull myself out of bed and go for a 15-minute HIIT run around my neighborhood. When I get home I do about 20 minutes of resistance-band training for my shoulder and core. I dislocated my shoulder two weeks ago at a ninja warrior class, and it's the second time it's happened in two years. I'm trying to take my time rehabbing it, so I'm doing cardio and lower-body exercises in the meantime. I take a quick shower and do my several-step skin-care routine that I'm hoping will minimize all my acne scarring.
8:15 a.m. — I finish packing my lunch of a salad with some chicken I grilled late last week, apple slices, a Larabar, and almonds. I'm trying intermittent fasting again this week, since I can't do my usual intensity of workouts, and not having breakfast saves me so much time in the mornings!
9:30 a.m. — I get into the studio, set up my laptop, and pop my lunch in the fridge. I'm a designer in residence at an incubator that essentially acts as an accelerator to launch your fashion business. I pay monthly fees to the program, which is a nonprofit, to cover things like our computer programs, mentors, and workshops. I have to order some fabric samples I've had my eye on for a while. I'm only ordering four samples, and the first two are free, but they're coming from the U.K. so the shipping is $15. It's painful to pay that much for shipping, but it must be done. I can expense this later down the line with my accountant, so I put it on my business credit card. $17
Advertisement
10:45 a.m. — I meet with my design mentor, and we go over my collection and what I'm thinking for my fabrics and launch. She offers some really interesting insight based on what she's seeing from my mood boards and inspiration images for my sketches. I'll probably touch base with her again when I've got some samples finished in actual fabric.
12:10 p.m. — I can break my fast! I eat my apple slices and almonds and am thankful for the break, because I'm working on an annoyingly complicated sleeve and it's frustrating me! I spend an hour eating my salad and Larabar while watching some Netflix.
5 p.m. — I go to Starbucks across from the studio and get some Justin's Organic Peanut Butter Cups, which I eat while watching YouTube tutorials on the sleeve pattern I'm working on. I may have to start completely from scratch, but I'm honestly trying not to dwell on it. I pay with my Starbucks app, because my credit card gives me points for Starbucks and the app gives me rewards, so what's not to like? $2.15
7:20 p.m. — I finally get the pattern right and the piece is looking awesome, so I'm pleased I didn't give up! I head home on the train.
8:30 p.m. — I get home and immediately change into my sweatpants. I have leftovers from seeing my parents on the weekend to heat up, and I bulk it up with some steamed broccoli. It's really nice to live close to family again after I spent the past two years living in Australia doing my master's. I cut up a pear for dessert and watch this new show, Bless This Mess (mostly 'cause I love Dax Shepard), while working on my website before crashing at 10:30.
Advertisement
Daily Total: $19.15

Day Two

6:55 a.m. — I pull myself out of bed after having the weirdest dream about bridal designs. I swear I can't get away! I go for a 30-minute walk and do my shoulder exercises and some abs. If I can't work my upper body, I can at least try for abs!
9 a.m. — My day doesn't end until 8 tonight, so I give myself a little more time in the morning. I shower, wash my hair, do my skin-care routine, and put on makeup. I didn't meal prep well this weekend, so I quickly throw together a salad. I'm trying to reduce my single-use plastic, so everything goes in glass containers. It makes my bag super heavy, but it's a small inconvenience compared to how I would feel producing that much waste every day.
9:45 a.m. — I get to the studio, and it's just me — yay! I love it when I have the studio to myself in the mornings to just play my podcasts and get my headspace right for the day. I make some mint green tea and spend some time trying to sort out my Australian tax return. I lived and did my master's in Melbourne, and when I got back I filed a paper return, but it still hasn't gone through and it's been ten weeks. I email my tax guy in Melbourne to see if he can help.
12:15 p.m. — I finish up the gown I'm working on and jump on my laptop. I have a one-on-one video call with my manager for one of my jobs where I'm a contract bridal stylist. I snack on my apples with almond butter while I wait for her to get on. I wait half an hour until I get a text at 12:51 saying she's canceling. I wish she would've let us know sooner, because now I've lost about an hour of work time and I still don't know the schedule for the weekend! I go back to work for a couple hours and then take a break to eat my salad.
4:30 p.m. — I pack up my stuff and leave the studio to go to my second job, where I'm a fit specialist (I do fittings and alterations for men, women, brides, and bridesmaids). On the way, I stop at Starbucks and pick up a Perfect Bar because I'm addicted to them — the peanut butter chocolate chip is incredible!! $3.31
8:30 p.m. — I get off the train and see I have a 15-minute wait for the bus, so I run to the Aldi across the street and grab frozen corn and some blueberries. When I get home I start prepping my dinner, which is shrimp, sautéed peppers and onions, corn, black beans, and avocado, all on top of Romaine lettuce. It's DELICIOUS. I have some left over, but I practice a bit of self-control and save it for tomorrow's lunch. I start watching Grace and Frankie while I eat. I also eat some dark chocolate and a pear for dessert. $3.85
10:15 p.m. — I just checked my schedule for tomorrow, and one of my mentors has a workshop at the incubator at 9, so if I want to get a workout in in the morning, I should head to bed soon. My boyfriend calls from New Zealand as soon as I get into bed. He's Kiwi and in the final stages of getting a 12-month working visa to come live with me in the States! We talk until about 11:30, and I promptly pass out.
Daily Total: $7.16

Day Three

6:15 a.m. — My alarms go off at the same time every day, and every time it wakes me up right in the middle of an intense dream. I don't actually get out of bed until 7. I go into the living room to do some lower-body Pilates exercises and my shoulder training. I have to get out of the house pretty quickly, but I feel like the pass on my Ventra card is about to expire. I spend a good ten minutes trying to add money on the app, but it's not working. I chance it and run to the bus, and my pass works!
8:30 a.m. — While I'm on the train, I notice that my bag zipper has busted open! It's been giving me trouble for a while, but I only just got it in Melbourne at a vintage market six months ago! I start Googling repair places to take it to when I get paid.
12:30 p.m. — After our workshops and one-on-ones with our mentors, I eat my leftover shrimp taco salad and some blueberries and almonds while I watch YouTube pattern-making videos.
2:30 p.m. — I definitely didn't bring enough food today, so surprise surprise, I go to Starbucks and get a Perfect Bar because they're filing, delicious, and PERFECT. $3.31
3 p.m. — After I chat with our program manager, she reminds me that I get 12 essentially free hours of pattern-making and sample-making expensed by the incubator per year. It's great because it means I can have someone else pattern the more complex pieces in my collection, which saves me time and stress!
5:45 p.m. — I leave the studio to go to Thursday Therapy with a friend. Its a free networking event put on once a month where professionals in the wedding industry can meet and mingle! I have to top up my Ventra for sure this time, and when I do, I see that it's negative $8 somehow! Usually I do a week pass, but I know I'm driving more this weekend, so I just load $20. $20
8:40 p.m. — The event was so fun! So much delicious free food and cocktails, plus I met some new industry friends. Now that I'm back in Chicago and really trying to make a go of my business, I'm putting myself out there even more and flexing my tiny extroverted side. I get home super full, so I wash all my Tupperware from my lunch and change into sweats. Some fabric samples came in the mail, so I put on Grace and Frankie, go through fabric, and text my mom before crawling into bed at 10.
Daily Total: $23.31

Day Four

6:45 a.m. — Alarm goes off and same deal: pull myself out of bed 30 minutes later and do my living room workout. I'm hoping to get a chance to talk to a physical therapist about my shoulder today — just waiting to verify my insurance coverage.
8 a.m. — I hard-boil some eggs for lunch along with carrots, almonds, blueberries, and a Perfect Bar that I found in the back of my fridge. I start work at 9 today at the tailoring place, and I like to try to get there at least ten minutes early.
12 p.m. — While I snack on my almonds and blueberries, my boss and I chat about the fashion industry in Chicago and its many flaws and difficulties. He seems excited for me to start my own venture and keen to help in any way!
2 p.m. — I leave one job and head to my other job. I stop into Jewel first to get some work snacks: turkey jerky and Chex Muddy Buddies, because I'm a serious snacker and have at least three hours to kill before my appointments. I check into the room at the hotel where we take brides and immediately have my lunch and snack while I set up the gowns. $8.34
3 p.m. — Apparently, as I was walking to the hotel, a ton of cards fell out of my wallet! None of the important credit cards, but things like membership cards and library cards. I didn't realize until a stranger messaged me on Facebook to let me know she had them. I run down to meet her about a block away. People can be so great!
8 p.m. — I had two brides tonight, both of whom were lovely and I think found their gowns, but want to come back with their important decision-makers, like mom and mothers-in-law. Even though we have a one-appointment policy, I get them both on a waitlist for 30-minute second appointments. I get home and I'm still so full from snacking that I don't even want dinner, which is super weird for me. I put on sweats and water my plants. I got more samples in the mail, so I sit on the couch to have a look through them — with Grace and Frankie, of course. Boyfriend calls and we talk until around 11, then I finally pull myself off the couch and go to bed.
Daily Total: $8.34

Day Five

9:30 a.m. — I get to sleep in today! I wake up around 8:30-ish but just lounge in bed and scroll for a bit before getting up and heading to the gym. I just moved and don't have a steady gym membership yet, so I just booked a ClassPass gym-time session.
10 a.m. — I start with a ten-minute warm-up on the StairMaster, then do about 30 minutes of lower-body strength with dumbbells. I finish with 30 minutes on the elliptical, and I feel SO good, despite the fact that it's snowing when I leave, wtf Chicago?!
12:30 p.m. — I'm suddenly starving, so I decide to make a smoothie bowl topped with paleo granola, cashew yogurt, blueberries, and almond butter. I fry up two eggs as well. When I finish eating, I blowdry my bangs, put my hair in a quick braid, and head out to do some fittings.
2 p.m. — A friend of a friend is getting married in three weeks, and she needs a bustle put on her gown along with some bridesmaid alterations. Two of her bridesmaids aren't there, and one of them agrees to come and meet me at my place to get her fitting done later. Alterations help me pay down my business credit card expenses for things like fabric and supplies.
7 p.m. — During my at-home fitting, my friend who I was supposed to hang out with tonight texts me to see if we can raincheck, as they've got a bad migraine. I don't mind, since the weather is so gross, so I make chickpea pasta and mix in ground turkey and marinara sauce and steam broccoli on the side.
8 p.m. — I'm texting one of my best friends, who I met in Australia, about how I really want to get ice cream, but I either have to walk to the store in the snow or order UberEats with a dumb $5 delivery fee. The next thing I know, she sends me a screenshot of her UberEats app, and she's sending Jeni's Ice Cream straight to my door from Australia! If that isn't friendship, I truly don't know what is! After eating most but not all of the pint, I wash my face and get ready for bed and read until around 10:30, when I pass out.
Daily Total: $0
Day Six
7:15 a.m. — My bloated dairy belly wakes me up, but it was so worth it. I leave for work around 8, so I can get there around 9 and have enough time to prep before my appointment at 10.
11:45 a.m. — My first appointment went really well, and we found her gown! Second appointment was just a 30-minute follow-up for a bride I had last week who bought her dress but wanted to show it to her other friends and flower girl. I bag up the gowns and clean up the room before heading home around 12:45. My Ventra pass is out of money, so I put a seven-day pass on. $28
1:45 p.m. — I get home and have a friend coming by to pick up her bridesmaid dress that I hemmed for her. I have some time to kill, so I give the bathroom a good scrub-down, which is usually on my Sunday to-do list. My friend is really happy with her dress, and she brings me two little propagated Monstera leaves to say thank you. I'm a plant lover and had the most beautiful Monstera in Australia that I still miss every day.
4 p.m. — Gym time! Same deal as yesterday, start with the StairMaster, then do 30-minute ab circuit and finish with 30 minutes of elliptical.
6 p.m. — I get home and start doing some meal prep for the week, like spiralizing zucchini into noodles and chopping salad ingredients. While I'm doing this, my friend F. texts me and invites me to her friend's bachelorette party next weekend. It's on Saturday, and I'm working 10-5, so I have to miss the pole-dancing class, unfortunately (I probably can't do it with my shoulder anyway?), but I can join for dinner, drinks, and dancing. When my meal prep is done, I wash my face and do a face mask and watch 90 Day Fiancé while texting my boyfriend. I heat up leftovers for dinner and head to bed around 10.
Daily Total: $28

Day Seven

7:15 a.m. — It's raining today, so I get up and do some leg exercises in the living room, with abs and shoulder rehab. I shower, wash my hair, and pack up all my laundry that I'm taking to my parents' house today. My dad insists that I bring my laundry home 1) to save money, and 2) because he thinks my laundry room is unsafe. It's completely fine, but if he feels more comfortable, I'm happy to have free laundry done. I'm heading to a fabric meeting this morning and see I got paid from my contract job, so I immediately pay my internet and electric bills.
12:30 p.m. — Fabric meeting was really good this morning, and I order a few swatches to hopefully be mailed to me within a week. When it's done, I get back in my car and drive to the suburbs. Before I get to my parents' house, I stop at my usual salon and get my bangs trimmed, which they do for free. I also need to get gas but decide to stop off before I head home tonight. When I get to my parents' house, I make some lunch of two fried eggs, sautéed spinach, and a quarter of an avocado.
3 p.m. — My mom and I decide to go thrifting, so we go to Goodwill and I find an awesome gold magazine rack for $3 and a spice rack for $2. My mom is lovely and pays for them for me.
4 p.m. — Mom and I also hit up Target and have a look through the home goods. I find some great throw pillows that are on clearance, from $25 down to $8, so I grab the three that are there for my couch. I also get a box of Larabars for my lunches this week, which my mom says she'll get for me as well because I think she likes for me to be fed? I pay for my pillows with my Target REDcard, so I get 5% off the total price. $26.22
7:15 p.m. — After I have dinner with my parents and cuddle with their cat, I load up my car with my purchases and leftovers and head back to the city. I stop and get gas because it's way cheaper in the suburbs and drive back into the city. I spend the rest of the night nibbling on gingersnaps my mom gave me and watching more Grace and Frankie. I head to bed around 10:30 after a quick phone call with the boyfriend. $30
Daily Total: $56.22
We want to know: What's your most embarrassing Instagram story? Ever accidentally sent someone an emoji in response to their IG Story that you did NOT intend to send? Ever liked an ex's new girlfriend's mom's post from three years ago? Accidentally DM-ed your boss something you shouldn't have? We want to know about it! Fill out this form for a chance to be featured on our site.
Money Diaries are meant to reflect individual women's experiences and do not necessarily reflect Refinery29's point of view. Refinery29 in no way encourages illegal activity or harmful behavior.
The first step to getting your financial life in order is tracking what you spend — to try on your own, check out our guide to managing your money every day. For more money diaries, click here.
Do you have a Money Diary you'd like to share? Submit it with us here.
Have questions about how to submit or our publishing process? Read our Money Diaries FAQ doc here: r29.co/mdfaqs

More from Work & Money